“My dear,” said old Miss Thornton, that evening, “I have consulted Mrs. Buckley on the sleeves, and she is of opinion that they should be pointed.”
“Do you think,” said Mary, “that she thought much about the matter?”
“She promised to give the matter her earnest attention,” said Miss Thornton; “so I suppose she did. Mrs. Buckley would never speak at random, if she once promised to give her real opinion.”
“No, I don’t think she would, Auntie, but she is not very particular in her own dress.”
“She always looks like a thorough lady, my dear: Mrs. Buckley is a woman whom I could set before you as a model for imitation far sooner than myself.”
“She is a duck, at all events,” said Mary; “and her husband is a darling.”
Miss Thornton was too much shocked to say anything. To hear a young lady speak of a handsome military man as a “darling,” went quite beyond her experience. She was considering how much bread and water and backboard she would have felt it her duty to give Lady Kate, or Lady Fanny, in old times, for such an expression, when the Vicar, who had been dozing, woke up and said:—
“Bless us, what a night! The equinoctial gales come back again. This rain will make up for the dry March with a vengeance; I am glad I am safely housed before a good fire.”
Unlucky words! he drew nearer to the fire, and began rubbing his knees; he had given them about three rubs, when the door opened and the maid’s voice was heard ominous of evil.
“Thomas Jewel is worse, sir, and if you please his missis don’t expect he’ll last the night; and could you just step up?”
“Just stepping up,” was a pretty little euphemism for walking three long miles dead in the teeth of a gale of wind, with a fierce rushing tropical rain. One of the numerous tenders of the ship Jewel (74), had just arrived before the wind under bare poles, an attempt to set a rag of umbrella having ended in its being blown out of the bolt-ropes, and the aforesaid tender Jewel was now in the vicarage harbour of refuge, reflecting what an awful job it would have in beating back against the monsoon.
“Who has come with this message?” said the Vicar, entering the kitchen followed by Miss Thornton and Mary.
“Me, sir,” says a voice from the doorway.
“Oh, come in, will you,” said the Vicar; “it’s a terrible night, is it not?”
“Oh Loord!” said the voice in reply — intending that ejaculation for a very strong affirmative. And advancing towards the light, displayed a figure in a long brown great-coat, reaching to the ancles, and topped by some sort of head-dress, resembling very closely a small black carpet bag, tied on with a red cotton handkerchief. This was all that was visible, and the good Vicar stood doubting whether it was male or female, till catching sight of an immense pair of hobnail boots peeping from the lower extremity of the coat, he made up his mind at once, and began:—
“My good boy —”
There was a cackling laugh from under the carpet bag, and a harsh grating voice replied:
“I be a gurl.”
“Dear me,” said the Vicar, “then what do you dress yourself in that style for? — So old Jewel is worse.”
“Us don’t think a’ll live the night.”
“Is the doctor with him?” said the Vicar.
“The ‘Talian’s with un.”
By which he understood her to mean Dr. Mulhaus, all foreigners being considered to be Italians in Drumston. An idea they got, I take it, from the wandering organ men being of that nation.
“Well,” said the Vicar, “I will start at once, and come. It’s a terrible night.”
The owner of the great-coat assented with a fiendish cackle, and departed. The Vicar, having been well wrapped up by his sister and daughter, departed also, with a last injunction from Miss Thornton to take care of himself.
Easier said than done, such a night as this. A regular south-westerly gale, accompanied by a stinging, cutting rain, which made it almost impossible to look to windward. Earth and sky seemed mixed together, and each twig and bough sent a separate plaint upon the gale, indignant at seeing their fresh-acquired honours torn from them and scattered before the blast.
The Vicar put his head down and sturdily walked against it. It was well for him that he knew every inch of the road, for his knowledge was needed now. There was no turn in the road after he had passed the church, but it took straight away over the high ground up to Hawker’s farm on the woodlands.
Old Jewel, whom he was going to see, had been a hind of Hawker’s for many years; but about a twelvemonth before the present time he had left his service, partly on account of increasing infirmity, and partly in consequence of a violent quarrel with Madge. He was a man of indifferent character. He had been married once in his life, but his wife only lived a year, and left him with one son, who had likewise married and given to the world seven as barbarous, neglected, young savages as any in the parish. The old man, who was now lying on his deathbed, had been a sort of confidential man to old Hawker, retained in that capacity on account, the old man said once in his drink, of not having any wife to worm family affairs out of him. So it was generally believed by the village folks, that old Jewel was in possession of some fearful secrets (such as a murder or two, for instance, or a brace of forgeries), and that the Hawkers daren’t turn him out of the cottage where he lived for their lives.
Perhaps some of these idle rumours may have floated through the Vicar’s brain as he fought forwards against the storm; but if any did, they were soon dismissed again, and the good man’s thoughts carried into a fresh channel. And he was thinking what a fearful night this would be at sea, and how any ship could live against such a storm, when he came to a white gate, which led into the deep woods surrounding Hawker’s house, and in a recess of which lived old Jewel and his family.
Now began the most difficult part of his journey. The broader road that led from the gate up to the Hawkers’ house was plainly perceptible, but the little path which turned up to the cottage was not so easily found, and when found, not easily kept on such a black wild night as this. But, at length, having hit it, he began to follow it with some difficulty, and soon beginning to descend rapidly, he caught sight of a light, and, at the same moment, heard the rushing of water.
“Oh,” said he to himself, “the water is come down, and I shall have a nice job to get across it. Any people but the Jewels would have made some sort of a bridge by now; but they have been content with a fallen tree ever since the old bridge was carried away.”
He scrambled down the steep hill side with great difficulty, and not without one or two nasty slips, which, to a man of his age, was no trifle, but at length stood trembling with exertion before a flooded brook, across which lay a fallen tree, dimly seen in the dark against the gleam of the rushing water.
“I must stand and steady my nerves a bit after that tumble,” he said, “before I venture over there. That’s the ‘Brig of Dread’ with a vengeance. However, I never came to harm yet when I was after duty, so I’ll chance it.”
The cottage stood just across the brook, and he halloed aloud for some one to come. After a short time the door opened, and a man appeared with a lantern.
“Who is there?” demanded Dr. Mulhaus’ wellknown voice. “Is it you, Vicar?”
“Aye,” rejoined the other, “it’s me at present; but it won’t be me long if I slip coming over that log. Here goes,” he said, as he steadied himself and crossed rapidly, while the Doctor held the light. “Ah,” he added, when he was safe across, “I knew I should get over all right.”
“You did not seem very certain about it just now,” said the Doctor. “However, I am sincerely glad you are come. I knew no weather would stop you.”
“Thank you, old friend,” said the Vicar; “and how is the patient?”
“Going fast. More in your line than mine. The man believes himself bewitched.”
“Not uncommon,” said the Vicar, “in these parts; they are always bothering me with some of that sort of nonsense.”
They went in. Only an ordinary scene of poverty, dirt, and vice, such as exists to some extent, in every parish, in every country on the globe. Nothing more than that, and yet a sickening sight enough.
A squalid, damp, close room, with the earthen floor sunk in many places and holding pools of water. The mother smoking in the chimney corner, the eldest daughter nursing an illegitimate child, and quarrelling with her mother in a coarse, angry tone. The children, ragged and hungry, fighting for the fireside. The father away, at some unlawful occupation probably, or sitting drinking his wages in an alehouse. That was what they saw, and what any man may see today for himself in his own village, whether in England or Australia, that working man’s paradise. Drink, dirt, and sloth, my friends of the working orders, will produce the same effects all over the world.
As they came in the woman of the house rose and curtseyed to the Vicar, but the eldest girl sat still and turned away her head. The Vicar, after saluting her mother, went gently up to her, and patting the baby’s cheek, asked her kindly how she did. The girl tried to answer him, but could only sob. She bent down her head again over the child, and began rocking it to and fro.
“You must bring it to be christened,” said the Vicar kindly. “Can you come on Wednesday?”
“Yes, I’ll come,” she said with a sort of choke. And now the woman having lit a fresh candle, ushered them into the sick man’s room.
“Typhus and scarlatina!” said the Doctor. “How this place smells after being in the air. He is sensible again, I think.”
“Quite sensible,” the sick man answered aloud. “So you’ve come, Mr. Thornton; I’m glad of it; I’ve got a sad story to tell you; but I’ll have vengeance if you do your duty. You see the state I am in!”
“Ague!” said the Vicar.
“And who gave it me?”
“Why, God sent it to you,” said the Vicar. “All people living in a narrow wet valley among woodlands like this, must expect ague.”
“I tell you she gave it to me. I tell you she has overlooked me; and all this doctor’s stuff is no use, unless you can say a charm as will undo her devil’s work.”
“My good friend,” said the Vicar, “you should banish such fancies from your mind, for you are in a serious position, and ought not to die in enmity with anyone.”
“Not die in enmity with her? I’d never forgive her till she took off the spell.”
“Whom do you mean?” asked the Vicar.
“Why, that infernal witch, Madge, that lives with old Hawker,” said the man excitedly. “That’s who I mean!”
“Why, what injury has she done you?”
“Bewitched me, I tell you! Given me these shaking fits. She told me she would, when I left; and so she has, to prevent my speaking. I might a spoke out anytime this year, only the old man kept me quiet with money; but now it’s nigh too late!”
“What might you have spoken about?” asked the Vicar.
“Well, I’ll just relate the matter to you,” said the man, speaking fast and thick, “and I’ll speak the truth. A twelvemonth agone, this Madge and me had a fierce quarrel, and I miscalled her awful, and told her of some things she wasn’t aware I knew of; and then she said, ‘If ever a word of that escapes your lips, I’ll put such a spell on ye that your bones shall shake apart.’ Then I says, if you do, your bastard son shall swing.”
“Who do you mean by her bastard son?”
“Young George Hawker. He is not the son of old Mrs. Hawker! Madge was brought to bed of him a fortnight before her mistress; and when she bore a still-born child, old Hawker and I buried it in the wood, and we gave Madge’s child to Mrs. Hawker, who never knew the difference before she died.”
“On the word of a dying man, is that true?” demanded the Vicar.
“On the word of a dying man that’s true, and this also. I says to Madge, ‘Your boy shall swing, for I know enough to hang him.’ And she said, ‘Where are your proofs?’ and I— O Lord! O Lord! she’s at me again.”
He sank down again in a paroxysm of shivering, and they got no more from him. Enough there was, however, to make the Vicar a very silent and thoughtful man, as he sat watching the sick man in the close stifling room.
“You had better go home, Vicar,” said the Doctor; “you will make yourself ill staying here. I do not expect another lucid interval.”
“No,” said the Vicar, “I feel it my duty to stay longer. For my own sake too. What he has let out bears fearfully on my happiness, Doctor.”
“Yes, I can understand that, my friend, from what I have heard of the relations that exist between your daughter and that young man. You have been saved from a terrible misfortune, though at the cost, perhaps, of a few tears, and a little temporary uneasiness.”
“I hope it may be as you say,” said the Vicar. “Strange, only today Major Buckley was urging me to stop that acquaintance.”
“I should have ventured to do so too, Vicar, had I been as old a friend of yours as Major Buckley.”
“He is not such a very old friend,” said the Vicar; “only of two years’ standing, yet I seem to have known him ten.”
At daybreak the man died, and made no sign. So as soon as they had satisfied themselves of the fact, they departed, and came out together into the clear morning air. The rain-clouds had broken, though when they had scrambled up out of the narrow little valley where the cottage stood, they found that the wind was still high and fierce, and that the sun was rising dimly through a yellow haze of driving scud.
They stepped out briskly, revived by the freshness of all around, and had made about half the distance home, when they descried a horseman coming slowly towards them. It seemed an early time for any one to be abroad, and their surprise was increased at seeing that it was George Hawker returning home.
“Where can he have been so early?” said the Doctor.
“So late, you mean,” said the Vicar; “he has not been home all night. Now I shall brace up my nerves and speak to him.”
“My good wishes go with you, Vicar,” said the Doctor, and walked on, while the other stopped to speak with George Hawker.
“Good morning, Mr. Thornton. You are early a-foot, sir.”
“Yes, I have been sitting up all night with old Jewel. He is dead.”
“Is he indeed, sir,” said Hawker. “He won’t be much loss, sir, to the parish. A sort of happy release, one may say, for every one but himself.”
“Can I have the pleasure of a few words with you, Mr. Hawker?”
“Surely, sir,” said he, dismounting. “Allow me to walk a little on the way back with you?”
“What I have to say, Mr. Hawker,” said the Vicar, “is very short, and, I fear, also very disagreeable to all parties. I am going to request you to discontinue your visits to my house altogether, and, in fact, drop our acquaintance.”
“This is very sudden, sir,” said Hawker. “Am I to understand, sir, that you cannot be induced by any conduct of mine to reconsider this decision?”
“You are to understand that such is the case, sir.”
“And this is final, Mr. Thornton?”
“Quite final, I assure you,” said the Vicar; “nothing on earth should make me flinch from my decision.”
“This is very unfortunate, sir,” said George. “For I had reason to believe that you rather encouraged my visits than otherwise.”
“I never encouraged them. It is true I permitted them. But since then circumstances have come to my ears which render it imperative that you should drop all communication with the members of my family, more especially, to speak plainly, with my daughter.”
“At least, sir,” said George, “let me know what charge you bring against me.”
“I make no charges of any sort,” replied the Vicar. “All I say is, that I wish the intercourse between you and my daughter to cease; and I consider, sir, that when I say that, it ought to be sufficient. I conceive that I have the right to say so much without question.”
“I think you are unjust, sir; I do, indeed,” said George.
“I may have been unjust, and I may have been weak, in allowing an intimacy (which I do not deny, mind you) to spring up between my daughter and yourself. But I am not unjust now, when I require that it should cease. I begin to be just.”
“Do you forbid me your house, sir?”
“I forbid you my house, sir. Most distinctly. And I wish you good-day.”
There was no more to be said on either side. George stood beside his horse, after the Vicar had left him, till he was fairly out of earshot. And then, with a fierce oath, he said —
“You puritanical old humbug, I’ll do you yet. You’ve heard about Nell and her cursed brat. But the daughter ain’t always the same way of thinking with the father, old man.”
The Vicar walked on, glad enough to have got the interview over, till he overtook the Doctor, who was walking slowly till he came up. He felt as though the battle was gained already, though he still rather dreaded a scene with Mary.
“How have you sped, friend?” asked the Doctor. “Have you given the young gentleman his CONGEE?”
“I have,” he replied. “Doctor, now half the work is done, I feel what a culpable coward I have been not to do it before. I have been deeply to blame. I never should have allowed him to come near us. Surely, the girl will not be such a fool as to regret the loss of such a man. I shall tell her all I know about him, and after that I can do no more. No more? I never had her confidence. She has always had a life apart from mine. The people in the village, all so far below us in every way, have been to me acquaintances, and only that; but they have been her world, and she has seen no other. She is a kind, affectionate daughter, but she would be as good a daughter to any of the farmers round as she is to me. She is not a lady. That is the truth. God help the man who brings up a daughter without a wife.”
“You do her injustice, my friend,” said the Doctor. “I understand what you mean, but you do her injustice. All the female society she has ever seen, before Mrs. Buckley and your sister came here, was of a rank inferior to herself, and she has taken her impressions from that society to a great extent. But still she is a lady; compare her to any of the other girls in the parish, and you will see the difference.”
“Yes, yes, that is true,” said the Vicar. “You must think me a strange man to speak so plainly about my own daughter, Doctor, and to you, too, whom I have known so short a time. But one must confide in somebody, and I have seen your discretion manifested so often that I trust you.”
They had arrived opposite the Vicar’s gate, but the Doctor, resisting all the Vicar’s offers of breakfast, declined to go in. He walked homeward toward his cottage-lodgings, and as he went he mused to himself somewhat in this style —
“What a good old man that is. And yet how weak. I used to say to myself when I first knew him, what a pity that a man with such a noble intellect should be buried in a country village, a pastor to a lot of ignorant hinds. And yet he is fit for nothing else, with all his intelligence, and all his learning. He has no go in him — no back to his head. Contrast him with Buckley, and see the difference. Now Buckley, without being a particularly clever man, sees the right thing, and goes at it through fire and water. But our old Vicar sees the right, and leaves it to take care of itself. He can’t manage his own family even. That girl is a fine girl, a very fine girl. A good deal of character about her. But her animal passions are so strong that she would be a Tartar for anyone to manage. She will be too much for the Vicar. She will marry that man in the end. And if he don’t use her properly, she’ll hate him as much as she loves him now. She is more like an Italian than an English girl. Hi! there’s a noble Rhamnea!”
The Vicar went into his house, and found no one up but the maids, who were keeping that saturnalia among the household gods, which, I am given to understand, goes on in every well-regulated household before the lords of the creation rise from their downy beds. I have never seen this process myself, but I am informed, by the friend of my heart, who looked on it once for five minutes, and then fled, horror struck, that the first act consists in turning all the furniture upside down, and beating it with brooms. Further than this, I have no information. If any male eye has penetrated these awful secrets beyond that, let the owner of that eye preserve a decent silence. There are some things that it is better not to know. Only let us hope, brother, that you and I may always find ourselves in a position to lie in bed till it is all over. In Australia, it may be worth while to remark, this custom, with many other religious observances, has fallen into entire desuetude.
The Vicar was very cross this morning. He had been sitting up all night, which was bad, and he had been thinking these last few minutes that he had made a fool of himself, by talking so freely to the Doctor about his private affairs, which was worse. Nothing irritated the Vicar’s temper more than the feeling of having been too free and communicative with people who did not care about him, a thing he was very apt to do. And, on this occasion, he could not disguise from himself that he had been led into talking about his daughter to the Doctor, in a way which he characterised in his own mind as being “indecent.”
As I said, he was cross. And anything in the way of clearing up or disturbance always irritated him, though he generally concealed it. But there was a point at which his vexation always took the form of a protest, more or less violent. And that point was determined by anyone meddling with his manuscript sermons.
So, on this unlucky morning, in spite of fresh-lit fires smoking in his face, and fenders in dark passages throwing him headlong into lurking coalscuttles, he kept his temper like a man, until coming into his study, he found his favourite discourse on the sixth seal lying on the floor by the window, his lectures on the 119th Psalm on the hearthrug, and the maid fanning the fire with his CHEF D’OEUVRE, the Waterloo thanksgiving.
Then, I am sorry to say, he lost his temper. Instead of calling the girl by her proper name, he addressed her as a distinguished Jewish lady, a near relation of King Ahab, and, snatching the sermon from her hand, told her to go and call Miss Mary, or he’d lay his stick about her back.
The girl was frightened — she had never seen her master in this state of mind before. So she ran out of the room, and, having fetched Mary, ensconced herself outside the door to hear what was the matter.
Mary tripped into the room looking pretty and fresh. “Why, father,” she said, “you have been up all night. I have ordered you a cup of coffee. How is old Jewel?”
“Dead,” said the Vicar. “Never mind him. Mary, I want to speak to you, seriously, about something that concerns the happiness of your whole life.”
“Father,” she said, “you frighten me. Let me get you your coffee before you begin, at all events.”
“Stay where you are, I order you,” said the father. “I will have no temporizing until the matter grows cold. I will speak now; do you hear. Now, listen.”
She was subdued, and knew what was coming. She sat down, and waited. Had he looked in her face, instead of in the fire, he would have seen an expression there which he would little have liked — a smile of obstinacy and self-will.
“I am not going to mince matters, and beat about the bush, Mary,” he began. “What I say I mean, and will have it attended to. You are very intimate with young Hawker, and that intimacy is very displeasing to me.”
“Well?” she said.
“Well,” he answered. “I say it is not well. I will not have him here.”
“You are rather late, father,” she said. “He has had the run of this house these six months. You should have spoken before.”
“I speak now, miss,” said the Vicar, succeeding in working himself into a passion, “and that is enough. I forbid him the house, now!”
“You had better tell him so, father. I won’t.”
“I daresay you won’t,” said the Vicar. “But I have told him so already this morning.”
“You have!” she cried. “Father, you had no right to do that. You encouraged him here. And now my love is given, you turn round and try to break my heart.”
“I never encouraged him. You all throw that in my face. You have no natural affection, girl. I always hated the man. And now I have heard things about him sufficient to bar him from any honest man’s house.”
“Unjust!” she said. “I will never believe it.”
“I daresay you won’t,” said the Vicar. “Because you don’t want to. You are determined to make my life miserable. There was Jim Stockbridge. Such a noble, handsome, gentlemanly young fellow, and nothing would please you but to drive him wild, till he left the country. Now, go away, and mind what I have said. You mean to break my heart, I see.”
She turned as she was going out. “Father,” she said, “is James Stockbridge gone?”
“Yes; gone. Sailed a fortnight ago. And all your doing. Poor boy, I wonder where he is now.”
Where is he now? Under the cliffs of Madeira. Standing on the deck of a brave ship, beneath a rustling cloud of canvas, watching awe-struck that noble island, like an aerial temple, brown in the lights, blue in the shadows, floating between a sapphire sea and an azure sky. Far aloft in the air is Ruivo, five thousand feet overhead, father of the great ridges and sierras that run down jagged and abrupt, till they end in wild surf-washed promontories. He is watching a mighty glen that pierces the mountain, dark with misty shadows. He is watching the waterfalls that stream from among the vineyards into the sea below, and one long white monastery, perched up among the crags above the highway of the world.
Borne upon the full north wind, the manhood and intelligence of Europe goes past, day by day, in white winged ships. And above all, unheeding, century after century, the old monks have vegetated there, saying their masses, and ringing their chapel bells, high on the windy cliff.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56